On Giants' Shoulders

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clear as Mud?

Last night I spent some time attempting to read the introduction to a book on Jane Austen. I say attempting because frankly, I gave up before I finished the introduction. I think I may partly have been just too tired to read this particular style of writing, but I'm going to give you a sample. You tell me whether this author is being unnecessarily obtuse.

[Contrary to Scott's opinions, then, Austen's novels were siginificant in the minds of many of her contemporaries not because they produced better or more entertaining instruction, but because they were at odds with the representational desiderata of Austen's particular time and station. Even as readers were able to read the novels in the manner of Scott, many found themselves at liberty to do otherwise, which invariably involved reading for detail rather than for the "narrative of her novels." This practice of reading is perfectly coextensive with the social vision in the fictions themselves, where a structure of dominance, however flexible or open, is no more than a bounding line for practices that, for want of a better term are unaccountable--though by no means ideologically neutral. On the contrary the particular version of bourgeois hegemony that criticism, and historically based criticism especially, has been responsive to in Austen's texts was as much a force in Austen's work as it remains a backdrop for other representational practices and ways of reading them to which her novels are concurrently available and for which the practices of at least some of her characters, including Frank Churchill, Jane Bennet, and even the reviled Crawfords, are a correlative.] By the way that last sentence is exactly the way I typed it. If my own students had written something like that I probably would have had them re-write it.

Now perhaps that would be clear to Atticus (who received his English degree a few years later than me and so was exposed to a different critical vocabulary), I'm hoping it will be clear to my daughter. However, it just isn't all that clear to me. I can sort of get the drift of what he's trying to say as I read through it in the light of day. However, I'm still not completely sure. This is actually one of the less obtuse paragraphs in the introduction.

I suppose that he's only preaching to the choir. He's only speaking to specialists like himself, not to the average college educated reader who'd like to know more about the historical Jane Austen. Theologians do the same thing sometimes, which is why the works of someone like Scott Hahn or even Pope Benedict are so valuable. They manage to take it down a notch, so that the average person can actually understand the concepts they are trying to convey. My sense with this particular book is that the author has a particular critical agenda he is trying to espouse. He certainly would like his viewpoint to influence the way that Austen is read, however, he isn't making that viewpoint clear for any but those people who are in the "inner circle." It reminds me of characters in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength.

It isn't necessary to be that obtuse. After I put the book about Austen down, I picked up the second volume of the Norton Anthology of British literature and began reading about the same period of time. In a couple of short pages, I had learned things that I didn't learn in college about the period. I got a better understanding of the Romantic movement and the process was relatively painfree.

I'm hoping that the rest of the book about the historical Jane Austen will be easier to read than the introduction, sometimes that happens. I really am interested in the historical Jane Austen. I really do want to be able to help my students place her in history and understand the perspective from which she was writing. I'm willing to dig through this mud to discover a few gems, but it does seem to me that the mud wasn't really necessary.

So much for hobby reading...I guess there's a reason I never pursued a Phd in English.


At 6:28 AM, Blogger brrrtquacker said...

I haven't ever heard St. Patrick's Rune set to music. Actually, how does the rune go?

At 6:58 AM, Blogger brrrtquacker said...

I agree that this guy is being unnecessarily obtuse. It sounds like he's writing this for his doctorate, so he uses a lot of Ivory Tower vocabulary, syntactic structure, and structure in his writing (which, in my opinion, ends up as a lot of needless ranting using prickly, in-group words). This style completely contradicts everything that students are taught now about catching your audience's attention, giving it a reason to continue reading, making your ideas accesible, and structuring your writing so that the audience could get a good overview by reading the first 1--2 sentences of each paragraph. Of course, as an incredibly experienced English teacher, you know this stuff like the back of your hand.

The author mentions that Austen's early readers often read her books for the details, rather than the plot, because she has such a beautiful writing style; he should take a leaf out of one of her books.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger shenyuen said...

runes!!!! yay!! :)


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